Sunscreen. Experts say it’s one of the best things you can do to help prevent skin cancer, and it is especially helpful if you start making a habit of it in childhood.
Most people know about the benefits of sunscreen, but not everyone knows that they may not be using it right–until they get a sunburn. So how do you use it, and how do you get kids to start protecting themselves?
It takes a lot more lotion to keep your skin safe than most people apply, says Richard F. Wagner, MD, professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. Wagner and a group of researchers studied people’s sunscreen habits on an average hot summer day at the beach.
“Even though people are using sunscreen, they’re not using it properly and they’re getting sunburned,” he says. Of the people who said they used sunscreen, 78% of them ended up sunburned at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, eight people who were at the beach that same day left burn-free. They all said that they reapplied sunscreen every hour or two, and, after swimming, they made sure to put more on.
Wagner says that is the key to skin sun protection. “You should put it on every two hours, but if you swim, you should put more on immediately after,” he says. Depending on your locale, it’s also a good idea to put sunscreen on right away–before you spread out your beach blanket, or even before you get there–since in some especially sunny areas, a sunburn can happen in just 10 minutes.
Don’t be stingy with the lotion, either. Wagner says it should take about an ounce of sunscreen–that’s the amount that would fill a shotglass–to cover the average adult.
It’s also important to make sure the kids use sunscreen and have it reapplied when necessary. A lot of young people get sunburned when they are away at summer camp or other activities where their parents aren’t around to constantly remind them, Wagner says.
One way to help kids learn about sun protection is through education, and another group of researchers found that summer recreation programs are a great way to get the message across.
Staff members at several children’s day camps in Hawaii were taught ways to educate children about sun protection as part of the summer program. Researchers found that the staff were receptive to the lessons, and shared much of the information with their campers, compared to the amount of sun protection-awareness at camps that did not receive special training.
“If we want to reach kids and families in recreation settings, there’s a lot of potential to be gained from the people who have influence on them when they’re outdoors,” says study author Karen Glanz, PhD, MPH, professor at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii at the University of Hawaii. Glanz’s study appears in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, and Wagner’s study appears in the May issue of the journal.
Since it’s one of the health habits that’s extremely important to start in childhood, finding ways to help kids learn about sun protection is vital, Glanz says, and making it a fun and interesting part of a summer program is a good way to do that.
“It’s what they do in childhood that really makes a difference later in life,” she says.
About one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the US.
The American Cancer Society has adapted a snappy slogan from an Australian skin cancer prevention campaign to help people remember ways to protect themselves in the sun: SLIP on a shirt, SLOP on some sunscreen, and SLAP on a hat. Just make sure that you’re slopping on enough.
Article By: Erin King, Medical Writer